The Honors class, UMOJA (United Minds of Joint Action), and CHUSA (Concordia Hmong United Student Association) hosted a Privilege Walk on Monday, March 27, 2017. The Privilege Walk was a visual representation of the mostly uncontrollable privileges that each individual has. The night began with some ice breakers so participants that came early could get to know one another. Anna, Mikayla, and Pakhoua each briefly introduced the groups hosting the Privilege Walk and gave some personal thoughts and observations. Dr. Chatman introduced the event and explained that it was not meant to make any feel ashamed or embarrassed about their situation. Dr. DeVries explained how the Privilege Walk would work. For each question asked, those that it applied to would either take one step forward or one step back. All participants started in a straight line. At the end of the questions, there was a fairly wide divide between those farthest forward, indicating more privilege, and those farther behind the starting line, indicating less privilege. Following the Walk, the group took time to debrief about the activity and Dr. DeVries asked some questions, including what the participants would do with the things they learned from the event. When the event officially ended, there was time for the participants to enjoy refreshments and meet other students.
Because the Honors class was involved in planning the Privilege Walk, it was closely connected with our topic for this semester, Hearing Their Voices: Globalism, Justice, and the Lives of the Marginalized. The Privilege Walk demonstrated how much privilege truly affects our daily lives, but also how much of our privilege is out of our control. Our discussion in Honors about white privilege began with reading Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White. Irving described her life and how she eventually came to realize how privileged she was, especially the privilege of simply being white. On the opposite side of white privilege is racial profiling, which we read about in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. During the debriefing of the Privilege Walk we talked about ways we can use our privilege to make a difference for the less privileged. We have also been discussing this topic in Honors, throughout the semester.
Going into the Privilege Walk, I was honestly a little afraid and nervous. I was afraid to participate in the Privilege Walk because through our discussions in class I have come to realize I am very privileged but I did not want to end up as the farthest forward. For some reason, I was afraid to be judged for these things I cannot control. I ended up close to the front, but not in the very front. My position, and the positions of many of the other people there, did not surprise me because of all they discussions we have had in Honors so far. The most helpful part of the night, for me, was when Dr. DeVries asked participants who were willing to share one or two words about how they felt immediately following the walk. The participants’ answers really gave me a different perspective. Both those farther forward and farther back said things like “sad,” “embarrassed,” or “blessed.” These words were further explained in the debriefing that followed. Those that were farther forward used the word “blessed” because they realized how hard their parents have worked to get them to this place or how privileged they truly were. Those who were farther back who used “blessed” or a similar word described how even though they do not have a lot of privilege, they are still at Concordia and have made it just as far as those who have more privilege. Those who used the words “sad” or embarrassed” were surprised at the divide or embarrassed at how many backwards steps they had to take. After debriefing, I believe many of those participants left with more pride in themselves and their heritage. This made me realize that even though at first I was ashamed of my privilege, I should be thankful for how much it has helped me, and not ashamed because it is largely out of my control. I should also be aware of that privilege and how I can help those who are less privileged.